The University of Michigan law school’s admission policy aspires to achieve diversity by enrolling a “critical mass” of underrepresented minority students. Grutter, a white resident of Michigan, applied for admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter applied with a 3.8 undergraduate GPA and an LSAT score of 161. She was denied admission. Grutter subsequently filed suit, alleging that the law school’s officials unconstitutionally discriminated against her on the basis of race.
The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the narrowly tailored use of race in university admission plans as part of a compelling interest in promoting student diversity.
The University of Michigan law school’s admission policy focuses on academic ability coupled with a flexible assessment of applicants’ talents, experiences, and potential to “contribute to the learning of those around them.” In reviewing an applicant’s file, admissions officials must consider the applicant’s undergraduate GPA, LSAT score, and soft variables such as the enthusiasm of recommenders, the quality of the undergraduate institution, the quality of the applicant’s essay, among other things. The policy also aspires to achieve diversity by enrolling a “critical mass” of underrepresented minority students.
Grutter, a white resident of Michigan, applied for admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter applied with a 3.8 undergraduate GPA and an LSAT score of 161. She was denied admission. Grutter subsequently filed suit, alleging that the law school’s officials discriminated against her on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Does the University of Michigan Law School’s use of racial preferences in student admissions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The University of Michigan Law School’s use of racial preferences in student admissions does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The law school’s admissions system is a thinly veiled and unconstitutional quota system. Citing admissions statistics, Justice Rehnquist noted the tight correlation between the percentage of applicants and admittees of a given race and argued that the numbers were “far too precise to be dismissed as merely the result of the school paying ‘some attention to [the] numbers.’”
The Court has not applied strict scrutiny. To say otherwise undermines the test and its own controlling precedents. The constancy of admitted minority students and the close correlation between the racial breakdown of admitted minorities and the composition of the applicant pool require the law school produce a convincing explanation or show it has taken adequate steps to ensure individual assessment.
There is no compelling state interest in Michigan maintaining a public elite law school, given that a number of states do not even have law schools, let alone elite ones. Moreover, marginal improvements in legal education do not qualify as a compelling state interest.
Hopefully in coming years, progress toward nondiscrimination and genuinely equal opportunity will make it safe to sunset affirmative action.
The applicable standard of review is strict scrutiny – this Court applies strict scrutiny to all racial classifications to “smoke out” illegitimate uses of race by assuring that government is pursuing a goal important enough to warrant use of a highly suspect tool. When race-based action is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest, such action does not violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection so long as the narrow-tailoring requirement is also satisfied.
Here, the law school has a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body. As part of its goal of assembling a class “exceptionally academically qualified and broadly diverse,” the law school seeks to enroll a “critical mass” of minority students. Notably, the law school’s interest is not simply to assure within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group merely because of its race or ethnic origin. That would amount to outright racial balancing, which is patently unconstitutional. Rather, the law school’s concept of “critical mass” is defined by reference to the educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce, such as cross-racial understanding, the breakdown of racial stereotypes, and the enablement of students to better understand persons of different races. Thus, the compelling interest requirement is satisfied.
Moreover, the law school’s admissions program bears the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored plan. The law school’s goal of attaining a critical mass of underrepresented minority students bears no resemblance to a rigid quota. In fact, between 1993 and 1998, the number of African American, Latino, and Native American students varied from 13.5% to 20.1%, a range inconsistent with a quota. Thus, the narrowly-tailored requirement is also satisfied.
Thus, the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the law school’s race-conscious admissions program.